Hugs can help you grow
What's in a hug?
If someone asks me this seemingly simple yet morally complex question, I would say: "A lot. A hug can change your life."
Just yesterday, when everyone at home was immersed in the morning news, my daughter looked up and shot a question straight through my brain.
"Dad, do you have a problem if, one day, I stand outside our home and offer hugs to strangers?"
I wasn't in a hurry to answer her. I was wondering where to start. This issue was thrust into my cognitive field as recently as last month when a couple of teenagers hung up their boots on life for some inexplicable reason. Were the kids getting enough hugs they required for normal growth? According to American physiologist Virginia Satir, we need four hugs a day for survival, eight for maintenance, and 12 for growth. Forget these enormous numbers. Were the children getting just one passionate hug a day? I doubt.
"Your silence surmises your predicament. You think this question is outside your jurisdiction and want to pass it to your wife?" Vava asked, as I was drowning in a maelstrom of dilemma.
"Dad, take a gander. A whole lot of strangers are out there in the street. The good, the bad and the ugly. It needs a big, brave heart."
I wasn't sure what she was up to. A hug isn't that easy. It's not just wrapping your hands around another person and squeezing. We hug to celebrate a particular moment. We hug to say welcome and to say goodbye. We hug to comfort in trying times. We hug to support and empathise. We hug to convey love. We hug to save someone from suicide. We hug to show camaraderie. We hug to patch up and unite. We hug to heal wounds. We hug to cheer and uplift spirit. We also hug to part ways.
I thought back to my son's medical school days. I was not known for peaceful parenting, having meted out corporal punishment to him in his school days. I'm still not sure if I'm a good or bad parent or a failed one. But this episode in our life underlines the importance of a hug. For his MBBS course, he had seven subjects each in the first two years and four and three in the last two years.
Besides the annual university exams, there were fortnightly tests which were counted for internal marks. Not many passed these tests, including my son whose score was pathetically low. When the morale hit rock bottom, he rejected our calls and locked himself in the hostel room. Two rounds of counselling at all departments were futile, after which I took matters into my own hands.
A month before the annual exams, I packed off to the university and rented a house outside. I cooked all the three meals and watched his studies for a couple of days to nail down the problem. I found that his sudden switch from the American system to the Indian way of memorisation was the issue. And medical studies were all about memorising. On the third day, I called him and said: "Don't change your style. You need to read from cover to cover, but it's not impossible."
"OK, tell me how."
"Read a page and see if there's a question in there. If not, just move on. If yes, stop there, learn and take down bit notes. Read only the notes on exam eve." He tried it out and I could feel the change as a broad smile was back on his face. I hugged him as many times as possible.
"Why didn't you do this earlier?"
"You only asked now." We burst into laughter and hugged.
We set a time table which allowed only a couple of hours to sleep, mostly from 1am to 3am. We huddled together on a single bed, hugging tight so that we wouldn't fall down. We never missed the wake-up alarm and we never broke the hugging chain.
Prior to the exam, I asked his anatomy teacher: "Will he get a distinction?"
"I doubt he will pass" was her reply.
The exam started at 8 in the morning. He would be ready by 7 and come to me for a hug, which reminded me of Sanjay Dutt's Jadu ki Jhappi (Magical Hug in the movie Munna Bhai MBBS), a method of comfort and compassion taught by his mother. During the final-year exams, I called him early morning to give the Jadu ki Jhappi over the phone. Hugs guided him to the right path and made sure he reached the destination without losing a single paper in all the five years.
"Dad, what's your answer? Jan 21st, National Hugging Day in the US, coincides with my birthday. Your 'yes' will be the best birthday gift ever." It's Vava again.
"If your hug can wipe the tears off someone even for a day, why not? Happy birthday, Vava."
"I may not do it after all for legal reasons but, dad, your words made my day."